Freedom of speech and freedom to hate?

The Southern Poverty Law Centre is an oddly named institution that gives little indication of what it does.  No, it is not some legal aid agency for poor people.  It is one of the most influential and comprehensive bodies that looks at hate and extremism in our southern neighbour, the US.  The SPLC looks at right-wing, Neo-Nazi, militia and other domestic terrorist groups in the US to determine what threat they pose. Its publication, Intelligence Report, is provided free of charge and is an important mirror on what is going on with American extremists.

We have seen the recent standoff in Oregon with self-styled patriots and “protectors of the Constitution”, but this is the merest tip of the iceberg.  SPLC has documented a worrisome spike in hate groups since the election of Barack Obama in 2008.  The fact that he is the US’ first African American president, whose birthplace has been challenged and who is liberal, provides most of what you need to know about why the far right has proliferated under his administration.

We here in Canada like to think that those kinds of groups and that kind of hateful ideology doesn’t happen here. Or does it?

I am sorry to say that it does.  A recent article in Maclean’s magazine (access it here) sheds some needed light on disgusting rhetoric in our country.  Did you know that there is a Facebook page called Never Again Canada that claims that Prime Minister Trudeau is as treacherous as former Iraqui (sic) dictator Saddam Hussein and that Muslims are a “useless diseased race of subhumans who are bent on destroying Western society”?  Interestingly, Never Again Canada says it is an “organisation dedicated to fighting anti-Semitism, propaganda, terror and Jew hatred in Canada”.  The founders clearly believe that to fight hate you have to spread more hate.  One poster said that the best way to express non-confidence in the PM would be to shoot him.  Will we see a parallel rise in hate groups here since the Liberals could be seen in the same light as the Democrats?  Where were all the nutjobs when Stephen Harper was PM?  Yes, many didn’t like him or his party’s policies but I do not recall people calling for his death. What is it about the “Left” that drives these people to expressions of violence?

Another sorry promoter of hate is perennial blowhard and clown Ezra Levant.  His Web site, The Rebel, talks about the threat from political Islam and decries the “decadent and debauched leftist ideology” of Justin Trudeau.  Levant is quoted as saying that the chances of political Islam changing Canadian culture is “100%”.  He dismisses charges that he is inciting violence, adding that people like him are just “venting”.

I once thought that vitriol and  hateful invective only existed in the comments section of many news Web sites.  I used to read the postings of Internet trolls for entertainment value.  Now I see this as a waste of valuable time as it contributes nothing to society.  And many news sites appear to agree with me as they have taken down comments sections to prevent anonymised hate from spreading.  But now these attitudes have their own sites: The Rebel has garnered 100,000 visits some days.

So where does freedom of speech end and illegal promotion of hate begin? I do not have the answer to that question.  But I do know that terrorists such as Anders Breivik in Norway cited many hatemongers in this 1,500 page manifesto.  People like Ann Coulter.  All of whom maintain that they are merely carrying out Constitutionally protected speech.  If someone takes their views and kills the propagators are not to blame.  Hate the hater, not the hate, or the hate spreaders.  Don’t do as I say.

Given limited resources, it is likely that CSIS and the RCMP are not devoting enough time and energy to these wackos in Canada.  The AQ- or IS-inspired terrorists rightfully demand more attention now.  So we as Canadians have a duty to call this speech what it is: hateful, violent, racist and not wanted in our country.  Cowards who spew hatred should not be allowed to hide behind the Charter.  This is NOT protected speech  – it is hate, pure and simple.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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